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Canadian Review of American Studies/ Revuecanadiemze d'etudes americaines Volume 29, Number 2, 1999, pp. 25-59 "Yonder they do not love your fiesh." Community in Toni Morrison's Beloved: The Limitations of Citizenship and Property in the American Public Sphere Dara Byrne Americans' fear of being outcast, of failing, of powerlessness; their fear of boundarylessness, of Nature unbridled and crouched for attack; their fear of the absence of so-called civilization; their fear of loneliness, of aggression both external and internal. In short, the terror of human freedom-the thing they coveted most of all. (Morrison 1992, 37) 25 Beloved (1987), Toni Morrison's Reconstruction-era slave narrative, locates freedom in the autonomous act of death, which transforms the impetus ofthe nineteenth-century American public sphere, the slave population, by permanently nullifying potential capital gains from the slave's production output. By exercising sovereignty of self and revoking the imposition of Western economic classifications on the body, death enables the slave to shift the locus of power away from the master. 26 Canadian Review of American Srudies Revue canadienne d'etudes americaines Slaves were guided in part by an African world view that did not perceive death as the culmination of the spiritual being. Paul Gilroy notes that death was liberation for the soul as it meant continuity of the spiritual force: Amidst the terror of slavery, where bodily and spiritual freedoms were readily distinguished along lines suggestedby christianity-ifnotAfrican cosmology-death was itselfoften understood as an escape. Itofferedthe opportunity to acquire a higher heteronymous freedom in which the mortal body, unshackled at last, would be cast aside as the newly liberated soul soared heavenward or took its place in the a_ncestral pantheon. (Gilroy 1995, 69) By deliberately removing himselr from the commodity market, the slave establishes the centrality and integrity of his individuality and exerts his unconquerable will in the liberating choice of death. Death becomes a calculated political action that transcends its metaphysical dimension. The slave denies thesupremacy ofthe nineteenth-century American public sphere by removing its agency and authority in defining that particular individual as moveable property. Beloved poses a counter toJurgen Habermas's conception of the bourgeois public sphere by challenging the notion that property and ownership were fundamental to community consciousness (Habermas 1996). By positing a multiplicity of freedom modes in the narratives of its characters,2 Beloved engages in an evaluative and interpretive "rememory" through which the framework of an alternative sphere emerges. "Rememory" conjoins past and present, absence and presence through a montage oftraditional African oral narratives which place ex-slaves at the centre of their own stories by creating a first-person historical account of post-Civil war blacks. Elsa Barkley Brown notes how African Americans developed their sense of community through the bond ofthe struggle: "Afteremancipation African American men, women and children, as part of black communities throughout the South struggled to define on their own terms the meaning of freedom and in the process to construct communities of struggle" (Brown 1995, 113). Resiliency becomes part of the identity of the black public sphere as it develops strategies for survival, surpassing the loss of family, love, culture and the lack of property, Dara Byrne / 27 safety, and capital. Beloved challenges the centrality of property to the integrity of the emerging black public sphere and fashions a counterdiscourse through a co-"rememory" that redefines individuality, citizenship, and freedom by locating the nexus of the family consciousness in the continuity of the black community. The spectacle of publicly selling black bodies in America created an obfuscated black sphere within the private and public spheres because the black body subconsciously represented white capitalist production goals and ownership aspirations. Blacks did not participate in these private or public spheres because they were not considered citizens during the colonial era. Thus, Habermas's notion of the "people's public" sphere was truly exclusive to whites3 primarily because this "liberal public sphere took shape in the specific historical circumstances of a developing market economy" (McCarthy 1996, xi). The movement towards modern-day capitalism forced commodity exchange, as Habermas notes in The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere ((1989] 1996), beyond the control of the household economy...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 25-59
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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